John Hagel – The power of narratives

I do not want to underestimate or undervalue the power of stories, stories connect with us in a very emotional level and are very memorable. On the other hand for me the difference is that narratives, stories tend to be very self-contained, they have a beginning in full and a resolution, there is an ending. Narratives are open-ended. There is no resolution yet, they typically identify an opportunity on the horizon, something that’s really exciting and interesting, but its not been achieved yet, it’s the resolution of the narrative is to be determined.

And the other element of the distinction is that stories typically are about me, the storyteller, or they are about those people over there, they are not about you as the listener, you have to use your imagination to figure out what you might have done in that story, but it’s not about you.

And, in contrast, narratives, effective narratives, are actually about you, the resolution of the narrative, the ability to actually achieve that opportunity that’s been identified, will hinge on your choices and your decisions: what’s it going to be? What action will you take in order to pursue this narrative? And to illustrate the power of narratives, I indicate that actually throughout history millions of people have given their lives for narratives. So you want to talk about emotional engagement, they have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of a narrative, it could be a religious narrative, it could be a social narrative but millions of people have given their lives for these narratives.

I think there is enormous power in them, one of the elements… It’s all connected for me but I believe that narratives actually are a very powerful way to tap into the passion of people, it goes back to that notion of leadership as being asking questions as opposed to providing answers, narratives, if properly framed, identify an opportunity, but it’s not something that’s achieved yet, and it’s a call to action.

It’s a call, it emphasizes the urgency that we all have to make a difference, and motivates us to pursue something that’s long term to get excited about, the challenges along the way because we know there is an opportunity at the end of the journey, and it motivates us to connect with others because the narrative is typically shared with other people, and we want to connect with other people to pursue that opportunity. So… and I think again motivates learning because we are all trying to achieve that opportunity and we know that we don’t know yet how to do that, so we are essentially experimenting, testing, and learning.

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